Suzie S couldn’t contain her smile when she landed her first freelance client. Sure the pay was a little low; but it would be worth working overtime for the incredible opportunities that would surely come her way soon. This client promised he could open doors for her. He said he had more work for her once this project was finished.
This freelance gig is easy, she thought. I don’t know why I put up with corporate for so long.
Then her contract didn’t get signed.
That’s okay, I’m sure he’s just busy. I’ll get to work anyway. I really want to knock it out of the park.
Then her deposit wasn’t paid. And the client needed more work than she originally thought.
And her emails were ignored, causing delays.
And those delays sparked passive-aggressive text messages from the client in the middle of the night.
Suzie worked 12-15 hour days for weeks trying to please this client. She barely spoke to her friends and family. And she often thought maybe I’m just not cut out for this freelance stuff after all...
If you’re a freelancer or part-time gig worker and this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. In fact, there’s an estimated 57 MILLION freelancers in the United States alone! Challenges like late payments, scope creep, poor communication, and inappropriate expectations plague both beginners and veterans alike.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Setting the client relationship up for success is a matter of defining clear expectations, clear communication, and clear boundaries right from the start. When you demonstrate this level of professionalism, you’ll have clients for life.
Define the scope of the project in detail, both in your sales conversations and in your contract. Any additional work should trigger an additional fee.
Set benchmarks and firm deadlines. Make sure you’re meeting these exactly. When the client knows they can trust you to deliver, more work will come your way.
Tell the client what you will need from them, when you’ll need it, and how it should be delivered. Often the greatest delays happen when the client fails to get you the information or materials you need to do your job.
During your onboarding call, ask how your client prefers to communicate—email, phone, text, or video chat. Then stick to those preferences, even if they’re not your favorites.
Update your client on progress weekly, even if there’s not much new to report. Regular communication builds trust and keeps your name top-of-mind for referrals.
Befriend your client’s assistant. Some clients can be notoriously difficult to get in touch with, and life is so much easier when you have an ally on the inside.
Set regular working hours when you’re available to take calls and emails from clients. Even though you may be working at 2 am, that doesn’t mean they should expect you to respond to their frantic emails at that time. (Unless you’re working with international clients, and it’s agreed upon up front.)
Pay attention to red flags like missed meetings, ignored emails, and gaslighting. Listen to your intuition—if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. No client should have the right to disrespect you, your time, or your business.
Know exactly when and how you will be paid. Invoice on time and set a penalty for late payments. You’re running a business, even if it’s part-time at your kitchen table.
These success skills will keep your business friction-free and humming along beautifully. You’ll attract better clients and actually have time to enjoy your life. (What a concept, right?)
Suzie learned the hard way that not all clients are worth her time and energy. Some people will always try to take advantage of freelancers and gig workers. But rather than playing the “poor me” victim, she spent some time putting firm policies in place to stop the head games, ditch the bad eggs, and make a success of her business.
And of course—you know the rest—she freelanced happily ever after.
This article was written in partnership with wiseHer - a technology platform that provides on-demand expert advice for small businesses and women to accelerate their business or career.
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